Elections Pakistan: Democratizing the Parties

Posted on August 10, 2007
Filed Under >Aqil Sajjad, Politics
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Aqil Sajjad

Pakistan Elections 2007We are all aware of how our political parties are run by a few personalities without any regard for democratic principles. We also know how this seriously weakens the parties and impacts their ability to address the issues of the people and stand up to the establishment where needed.

Even now, while most of the party workers of PPP are against any deal, BB is having talks with Musharraf in sheer disregard of the majority opinion in her party. Many opportunistic politicians are holding negotiations for tickets with more than one party without any commitment to any ideology or manifesto. All this naturally undermines the political process and prevents it from having much relevance to the people at the grass roots level.

Pakistan Elections 2007Pakistan Elections 2007Pakistan Elections 2007

While the events of the last few years have convinced many that military rule is not a solution to Pakistan’s problems, it is equally true that the political system, as it stands, is in need of a major overhaul. Most Pakistanis feel a complete disconnect between politics and how it impacts their lives. They are either indifferent or jubilant when the military takes over, hoping that perhaps the new ruler will turn out to be better. If the people are to have confidence in the political process, it must give them a genuine sense of participation.

It is not enough to say that the system will automatically sort itself out if allowed enough time sans interference from the military. This view is like the trickle down theory of economics, which says that given enough time, the benefits of economic growth will automatically filter down to the masses. While both trickle down theories may be strictly correct and good for a drawing room discussion, the suffering people can not and should not be made to wait so long. They can not be expected to come out in protest against a military coup when all the political system has to offer them is a vague promise of a trickle down effect some time in the far future.

Concrete steps are needed for making the political process reach out to the people at the grass roots level if the system is to function without any threat of derailment by the military. This should include steps for democratizing the party structure, genuine devolution of power to the lower level, free electronic media in the form of local radio and TV stations for openly debating grass roots issues, holding live debates on the manifestos of political parties rather than focusing on personalities, and putting in place solid checks and balances to prevent nepotism and corruption. Once such steps are taken, the political culture can start to change for the better in a noticeable way and the people can appreciate why the democratic process under the constitution is relevant to their well being.

Unfortunately, the political parties are not interested in such reforms. Even the much hyped charter of democracy, (which did contain some constructive proposals on the independence of the judiciary, the election commission and the national accountability bureau) was lacking in any useful points on the above mentioned issues. And with Benazir’s negotiations with Musharraf for a deal, even this somewhat limited charter of democracy is now effectively dead.

It is therefore left to the media and civil society to raise their voices for badly needed reforms aimed at making the political system genuinely participatory for the people. There are many issues worth struggling for, but as the polls approach, the focus for the next few months should be directed at reforms relating to the election process. In addition to the independence of the election commission, it is also very important to demand solid steps aimed at making the voters more aware and interested in manifestos rather than empty slogans on personalities (here and here), and having the parties put in place democratic and transparent processes for selecting their candidates.

With that in mind, a campaign is being started for generating pressure on political parties to democratize the process for deciding party tickets. A set of suggestions has been drafted on how the process for party tickets can be made democratic and transparent and can be read here. The whole article is located here.

We are hoping to collect a large number of signatures from interested Pakistanis and gather their valuable input on improving these suggestions by Sunday, Aug 12.

After that, the resolution will be finalized and sent to political parties. This will be followed by aggressive marketing of the ideas to build pressure.

Your help is needed in the following four ways:

1. Leave a message of endorsement on the web page here.

2. Provide your valuable input to improve the suggested points or the campaign strategy by posting your comments on the above link.

3. Spread the word around and urge others to support the campaign.

4. Write letters to political parties, media and civil society groups on the subject and keep track of the issue by following up. Make sure that the issue is not allowed to go in the background over time.

It is about time that there was a serious effort to reform the political process to make personality politics, dictatorship within parties, and lotacracy obsolete. It is going to be a long struggle for the media and civil society to make that happen, but we need to start by raising our voices for appropriate reforms, and repeating them again, again and again in unison until it becomes impossible for vested interests to ignore them.

21 responses to “Elections Pakistan: Democratizing the Parties”

  1. Ali Akber says:

    Well, The nation has no or limited trust in most of the politicians and political parties. Most of the mainstream parties and their manifestos are age old with no independent validation or audit of their economic and other agendas. Pakistan’s political culture is still dominated by feudal lords, religious pundits and army generals. Unless this triangle of abusers broken down, and real power cascade down to people from mainstream moderates and others, the chances of real democratic society are slim. There is no easy fix here. Pakistan as a nation has to go back and fix the wrong decisions that were taken 60 years ago. Namely:
    1) Land reforms. We must systematically remove feudalism and acknowledge and recognize the real owners of the land, “THE PEOPLE OF PAKISTAN”.
    2) Invest in educating masses.
    3) Enforce respect for law with no discrimination at all level.
    4) An independent governance model with autonomous institutions including judiciary, media and press.
    5) Constitution must be respected under all circumstance and no single individual be allowed to manipulate it.
    4) Deal with extremist elements and ideology with the focus to understand the root causes of this behavior rather then applying force. It is about time that Pakistan has an agenda of its own to deal with militancy and extremism.

  2. ali raza says:

    wishfull thinking at its best, i am cynical but this is too much plz stop it

  3. Aqil Sajjad says:

    The time line has been extended slightly and the resolution will now be sent to the political parties towards the end of this month. So please keep spreading the word around.

  4. Aqil Sajjad says:

    You raise a valid concern about the one-year condition and I would like to hear more from you on this.

    Just to share where I was coming from, I was thinking that new people would need to spend at least a year or so after joining a party to get themselves well-known enough to have a realistic chance of getting elected for a ticket anyway. However, the 1-year condition would make it impossible for established people to negotiate tickets with more than one party as they often do. They would have to make up their mind about which party they belong to and they would not be assured tickets at the time of joining that party because the ticket election would be held a year later.

    However, as I said, I would like to hear more from you on this point. Any thoughts or ideas on how the point can be modified or improved in a way that does not block new entrants while simultaneously preventing lotacracy would be very much appreciated.

  5. Aqil Sajjad says:

    I want to thank everyone who has made valuable comments above. Let me respond to some of them in this and the next post.

    The important thing is that if this issue is SERIOUSLY taken up by the media and civil society (and by that I mean REPEATED over and over again untill everyone has heard about a million times) then the wheels might be set in motion and party workers might begin to ask their leaders why there is no democracy within the party. Presently, most party workers aren’t even aware of their rights.

    If you gather a group of party workers and ask them to discuss intra-party democracy, you might discover that they can’t even talk on the subject. The same party workers will be able to make very passionate speeches about their ‘great’ leaders in exile.

    The media’s tremendous power is that by simply choosing to give REGULAR coverage to a particular issue, it can initiate a process of change. It is for this reason that the government tried to pressurize the TV channels into giving less coverage to the CJ case because it wanted it to be taken as a non-issue.

    To summarize:
    Repeated coverage of an issue by the media and civil society = good advocacy and a commendable job
    ocasional coverage of an issue by the media and civil society = lack of interest and allowing vested interests to ignore the issue

    So how the change exactly takes place (election rules or pressure within the parties) is a matter of detail and we can debate that, but at this point, the most important thing is to give this issue the prominence it deserves.

    I like your idea of debates on different subjects. If you’re drafting some points on manifestos and live debates, then you might want to incorporate the points (exp 4-6) given

    Debates on manifestos for federal and provincial govts should be separate, plus all candidates should have some personal manifestos on legislative matters. There should also be live debates on local radio stations between candidates contesting elections in the area.

    you have a point to some extent, but then, there are also plenty of examples of top leaders securing tickets for their kith and kin, plus if there is a winnable candidate and the party wants to give him a ticket, then they should do so through a properly institutionalized process. Also, whoever the winnable candidate is, he/she should just join a party and stick to it instead of lotafying around, hence the suggestion of a one-year condition.

    I have actually been thinking about campaign finance and spending, but couldn’t come up with a suggestion that would really be transparent and have the required teeth. The problem is that for any given issue, if you confront the vested interests, they will insist that they are doing everything the way it ought to be done. So we have to come up with specific suggestions aimed at making things transparent so that it becomes hard for them to riggle out easily.

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